While agonizing over the possibility of a second straight Alabama-LSU title game, I think I came up with the worst thing about their horrible dominance: as a neutral college football fan, you have to pick a favorite.
Well, let me qualify that. A person like me, who is incapable of watching a sporting event of any kind (including youth Frisbee) without vilifying one team and venerating the other, needs to pick a favorite. Believe me, that is a hateful, torturous task in this world of Tigers and Tide. Anyone with a semblance of love for the amateur unpredictability of college football probably despises these two programs. They are the evil empire, magnified by a power of two. While the rest of us stand by and watch, helpless, Les Miles and Nick Saban have created near-professional super-teams in a non-professional sport, slowly sucking the competitive life out of the game.
Last Saturday night, I lay half-asleep in a hotel room and watched Oregon play the Arkansas State Red Wolves in a football game that felt more like a hypnagogic fantasia. The Ducks were dressed up, as always, in Nike’s Alternate Elfin no. 6 color scheme, and they moved as if they were literally being chased by a pack of scarlet canids. They scored a touchdown, converted a two-point conversion, scored again, and then kept piling it on. They did not slow down until I glanced at my screen midway through the second quarter and it was 50-3 and the second-teamers were in, at which point I felt as if someone had slipped an Eli Roth film into my evening tea.
Football, as we know by now, is a brutal sport; close-up, man-to-man physicality, we like to think, is both the central element of the game and its most frightening aspect. This is what traditionally affords vicious block-and-tackle SEC squads like Alabama the edge over schools like Oregon, with its go-go West Coast, Gavin Rossdale–inspired offense. But I watched Alabama dismantle an inferior Michigan team on Saturday evening, and I watched Oregon vivisect Arkansas State afterward, and while I realize there is no true equivalence between the teams’ Week 1 opponents, here is what I can say: For the first time ever, Oregon scared me more.
When Michigan and Alabama kick off in Arlington tomorrow night, the man most responsible for bringing them there will be starting over. He’ll be 950 miles away, likely tucked in an office, waiting out the two hours before he begins again. Rich Rodriguez will be in Tucson, preparing to coach his first game at the University of Arizona. He’ll be far from Jerry Jones’s kingdom and the gem of college football’s first weekend, but without him, the Wolverines and Tide might be just as far away.
It’s a testament to what Nick Saban has done in Tuscaloosa that for those removed from Alabama’s football program, it’s hard to remember any of the mess that came before. The shine of those crystal footballs has a way of leaving Mike Shula in the dark. The truth is that it didn’t take Saban long to get his statue. It was less than six years ago that he was pried away from the Dolphins, and in that time, the success has made it easy to forget that the man who’s already a legend wasn’t even Alabama’s first call in the winter of 2006. That was Rich Rodriguez.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
Max Scherzer pitched six scoreless innings and Miguel Cabrera blasted a two-run homer as the Tigers evened their best-of-five series with the Yankees at 1-1 in a 5-3 win. After the game, Detroit closer Jose Valverde guaranteed a win. "This series is not coming back to New York," he said. Frustratingly, it's impossible to tell from his quotes exactly which team he expects to win.